THOUSANDS of NHS staff fell victim to the very people they were caring for, with more than 18,000 assaults on health service workers in just a year.

There were 18,389 attacks on staff logged last year, according to Freedom of Information data gathered from Scotland’s 22 health boards, but union Unison warned figures could be much higher because of underreporting.

Matt Mclaughlin, Unison Scotland’s head of health, said: “Working in the NHS is stressful enough without having to worry about your personal safety.

“NHS boards must take a zero-tolerance approach and improve the reporting system which NHS staff have little faith.”

The union collected data from 18 health boards, with four reporting no incidents or failing to respond.

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At NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Scotland’s biggest board, there were 4949 reported, NHS Tayside reported 2636 and NHS Fife reported 1871.

Workers at the Scottish Ambulance Service reported 832 attacks, including three aggravated assaults with intent to kill, multiple reports of being spat at, punched or kicked and six sexual assaults.

Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s Health Secretary, condemned the attacks on workers and warned of the consequences of doing so.

“Assaults on patients or staff are completely unacceptable, and everyone has the right to access healthcare, or their place of work, without fear of verbal or physical abuse,” the MSP said.

“The courts have extensive powers to deal robustly with assaults.

“All instances of violent behaviour, including sexual assaults should be reported and escalated to the police as quickly as possible.”

Unison has called on Yousaf’s government and Scotland’s health boards to implement a raft of measures to cut the number of attacks on health service workers who are just doing their job.

They include increasing on-site security, reporting all incidents to the police, as well as boosting staffing numbers to make sure workers have the time to report incidents.

Mclaughlin said: “While NHS boards must invest in dynamic risk assessments, staff training and reporting systems, it is vital that the Scottish Government tackles the staffing crisis in the NHS.

“They must recruit and invest in staff so they can reduce waiting times and ensure there are adequate staff to deal with difficult situations with patients.”

The union asked the health boards for the assaults data as part of its annual report Violent assaults: NHS staff in Scotland, which was published on Thursday.

In their seven-point conclusion, they also called for staff training in violence detection and management, and for health boards to set realistic targets to improve reporting.